Category Archives: Arab-Israeli Conflict

Response to Rob Eisen on Honor-Shame in Jewish Culture

Rob Eisen, who teaches Jewish Studies at Georgetown University writes the following on my exchange with Paul Scham, of which Paul posted his response at his blog. My responses folded into his comments.

The honor-shame dynamic varies in content and intensity with different cultures, but it’s in EVERY culture because it’s a basic element of human psychology. There’s lots to say about this from the standpoint of evolutionary biology, something Landes just isn’t sensitive to.

I’m not sure what makes you think I’m not sensitive to this, when I actually explicitly make the point at the beginning of the essay to which Paul responds. (I’ve just realized that Paul did not post my response to him, nor did he link to the original article to which he was responding, so unless you exercised more than due diligence, you only know what I think through the mirror of Paul’s response.) But thank you for the opportunity to clarify.

Tablet Exchange on Honor-Shame with Paul Scham: Unabridged Version

My friend Paul Scham, who’s on the National Advisory Board of J-Street and teaches about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict at University of Maryland, as well as one of the editors of Israel Studies Review, read my piece on Honor-Shame and the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Tablet and wrote a response, to which I wrote a response, which the Tablet, after considerable editing, has published. Both Paul and I are publishing the unedited versions of our work on our blogs, so that the five zealots who want to follow every detailed turn of our discussion can do so at their leisure. Comments welcome.

Honor and Shame are not the Problem:  A Reply to Richard Landes

By Paul Scham[1]

Richard Landes’s article on the honor-shame problem is erudite, articulate, and stimulating.  It is also largely irrelevant to understanding most of the Arab world today.  Such broad sweeps of historical generalization are titillating to historians and others but do not take account of the immense variation within the Arab and Muslim worlds and the fact that fundamental changes have occurred and are occurring within the last few decades, to say nothing of the last century.  Relying on a strict cultural determinism, as Landes does, is a disservice to understanding these dynamics.

Ya’ni culture and the problem of “lying” in honor-shame societies

My friend Matt Wanderman writes:

I remember you’ve talked about how Arab leaders don’t see something wrong with lying to Western media outlets. I was reading שומרי הסף and came across an interesting comment by Avi Dichter (former head of Shabak) on the phenomenon: בלא מעט מפגשים, כולל עם קולין פאוול שהיה מזכיר המדינה, ואחריו קונדוליסה רייס שהחליפה אותו, תמיד אמרתי להם: “אנחנו לא מוכנים לסבול יותר את תרבות ה’יעני’ של הפלסטינים.” ואז אמרו לי: “מה זה תרבות ה’יעני’?” אמרתי להם: “‘יעני’ זו מילת מפתח בערבית.” ואני אדגים לך אותה באמצעות סיפור אמיתי. בבית לחם היה מחבל, רב-מחבלים, בשן עטאף עבייאת שעמד מאחורי ירי המרגמות לעבר שכונת גילה בירושלים בשנת 2001. בשלב מסוים נשיא ארצות הברית בוש ויאסר ערפאת עסקו בשם עטאף עבייאת. תאר לעצמך – נשיא ארצות הברית דרש מיאסר ערפאת להכניס את עאטף עבייאת לכלא, ויאסר ערפאת התחייב שהוא יעצור את עאטף עבייאת ויכניס אותו לכלא. כי ישראל איימה שאם זה לא יקרה היא תיכנס לבית לחם כדי לפגוע בו. אחרי זה שמעון פרס שהיה שר החוץ הזעיק אותי לפגישה בירושלים עם אבו-עלא, שהיה יושב ראש המועצה המחוקקת שלהם, עם ג’יבריל רג’וב שהיה ראש השב”כ הפלסטיני ביהודה ושומרון, ועם סאיב עריקאת שהיה העוזר של יאסר ערפאת. ואז אני נכנס לחדר ויושבים שלושתם מול שמעון פרס, ושמעון פרס אומר לי: “אבי, הם אומרים שעאטף עבייאת בכלא.” ידעתי שזה קשקוש כי הוא היה בדיוק באיזה מבצע הכנו אז. אני אומר: “שמע, אדוני שר החוץ, אני צקווה שאתה לא מקבל את הדברים האלה.” אז הוא אומר לאבו-עלא: “אבו עלא, please tell him.” ועברנו לערבית כי באנגלית קשה מאוד לסכל טרור. ואז אבו-עלא אומר לי: “אבי, אני אומר לך, האיש עצור. האיש בכלא.” אני אומר לא: “אבו-עלא, אני מצטער, האיש לא בכלא.” ואז מהר מאוד ראית שהוא לא חזק בגרסה, הוא מסתכל על סאיב עריקאת ואומר לו: “סאיב, מיש היכ? (לא כך?)” סאיב עריקאת, האמן לי, אין לו מושג מי זה עאטף עבייאת, אין לו מושג מה בכלל קורה סביב הנושא הזה, אבל ניד הוא שולף מהמותן ואומר – “definitely” – ברור לחלוטין שהוא בכלא. ואז שניהם מסתכלים על ג’יבריל רג’וב ואומרים לו: “ג’יבריל, הוא בכלא, נכון?” עכשיו ג’יבריל יודע שאם יש מישהו שיכול לעצור את עטאף עבייאת זה רק הוא. והוא במלכוד. כי ג’יבריל יודע שהאיש לא בכלא. מעבר לזה, הוא יודע שאני יודע שהאיש לא בכלא, והכי גרוע, הוא יודע שאני יודע שהוא יודע שהאיש לא בכלא… ואז לוחצים, אומרים לו: “ג’יבריל, הלוא כן?” הוא בכלא, נכון?” ואז הוא אומר: “יעני…” עכשיו “יעהי” זה הוא בכלא, “יעני” זה הוא לא בכלא, ו”יעני” זה איפה שאתה רק רוצה… יום אחד היתה משלחת מארצות הברית אצלי וסיפרתי להם את הסיפור. בסוף שאלתי אותם: “הבנתם את המשמעות של המילה?” אז הם הסתכלו אחד על השני ואחד אומר – “יעני…” אמרתי: “אז הבנתם.” תרבות ה”יעני” היא אם כל חטאת במערכת היחסים שלנו עם הפלסטינים באותה התקופה. (דרור מורה, “שומרי הסף,” 2014, pg 259-60)

Matt’s quick translation:

In a number of meetings, including with Colin Powell, who was the Secretary of State, and after him Condoleeza Rice, who switched him, I always told them, “We aren’t willing to suffer any more of the Palestinians’ ‘ya’ni’ culture.” They replied, “What’s ‘ya’eni’ culture?” I told them, “‘Ya’ni’ is a keyword in Arabic.” And I’ll give you an example from a true story.

In Bethlehem there was a terrorist, an arch-terrorist, by the name of Ataf Abayat, who was behind the mortars fired at the Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem in 2001. At a certain stage President Bush demanded that Yassir Arafat put Ataf Abayat in jail, and Yassir Arafat agreed to arrest him and to put him in jail, because Israel threatened that to enter Bethlehem if he didn’t.

After this Shimon Peres, who was the Foreign Minister, summoned me to a meeting in Jerusalem with Abu-Aleh, who was the head of their legal committee, with Jibril Rejub, who was the head of Palestinian interior security in the West Bank, and with Saib Erekat, who was Yassir Arafat’s assistant. I entered the room and the three were sitting across from Shimon Peres, and Shimon Peres told me, “Avi, they say that Ataf Abayat is in jail.” I knew that it’s not true because he was just in an operation that had been planned. I said, “Listen Mr. Foreign Minister, I hope that you don’t believe this.” Then he said to Abu-Aleh, “Abu-Aleh, please tell him.”

And we switched to Arabic because it’s very hard to stop terror in English. Abu-Aleh said to me, “Avi, I’m telling you, the man is under arrest. He’s in jail.” I told him, “Abu-Aleh, I’m sorry, the man is not in jail.” And very quickly you could see that he wasn’t certain of his version, he looked to Saib Erekat and said to him, “Saib, mish hech? (is it not so?)” Saib Erekat, believe me, has no idea who this Ataf Abayat is, has no idea what’s going on at all with this topic, but immediately responds, “definitely” – of course he’s in jail. And then both of them look at Jibril Rajub and say, “Jibril, he’s in jail, right?”

Now Jibril knows that if someone can arrest Ataf Abayat, it’s only him. And he’s trapped. Because Jibril knows that the man isn’t in jail. Beyond that, he knows that I know that he’s not in jail. And worst of all, he knows that I know that he knows that he’s not in jail… And they press him and say, “Jibril, is it not right? He’s in jail, right?” And he says, “Ya’ni…” Now “ya’ni” means he’s in jail, “ya’ni” means he’s not in jail, and “ya’ni” means whatever you want.

One day a delegation from America was with me and I told them this story. At the end I asked them, “Did you understand the meaning of the word?” They looked at each other and one said, “ya’ni…” I said, “Then you understood.” The “ya’ni” culture was the mother of all misunderstandings in the our relationship with the Palestinians during that period.

If it sounds like one of R.D.Laing’s Knots, it’s because it is one of them. And the way out is not to say, “whatever.”

BDS: DOA vs. Sea Change in Favor

Parallel universes (or a lot happened in two days):


JULY 22, 2014 4:53 PM

The movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel isn’t selling.


24 JULY 2014

The academic boycott of Israel (“Unity amid divisions”, Features, 17 July) is a boycott of institutions not individuals, and there has been a tidal shift of opinion in favour of a boycott – this week, a fourth US academic association voted to support it.


Desperation or Aspiration: Response to someone from a Facebook Discussion

As so many others, I have been involved in a facebook conversation with people highly critical of Israel’s behavior. In particular, I’ve exchanged a number of comments with someone. Given the problems of responding on facebook (hit the return and it’s over), I’ve decided to answer to a long and thoughtful comment he made here at my blog. I welcome his responses.

I totally agree. Hamas is trying to gain western sympathy through higher body counts. 

If only Israel seemed in any way interested in lifting the blockade that puts Hamas in such a position where they feel they need our sympathy.

You are aware that every time Israel lets in anything that can be turned against her, Hamas will do that, yes? The international community and the NGOs and the UNRWA assured Israel that the tons of cement they allowed in would be used for building structures for the sake of Gazans, and they were instead put in tunnels to Israel whose only function was to kill Israelis by the thousands.

Shavit on this sad war story

Ari Shavit has a good piece of analysis up at Ha-aretz. For those who are mesmerized by statistics (often cooked), it’s worth a read. While it’s so easy for Hamas (and Fatah) to say, “my side right or wrong,” it’s really hard for Israelis to say “this time we’re right” even when we are.

In this sad war story, Israel is in the right

Those who are even slightly forgiving of Hamas are cooperating with a fanatically religious tyrannical dictator. Hamas are Palestinian neo-Nazis.

When the fighting ends, they’ll start to ask difficult questions. Did Israel do everything in its power to utilize the many years of relative calm to advance the peace process? Was the United States careful not to leave a vacuum in place when the Kerry initiative failed? Did Israel’s security establishment accurately estimate the raw threat presented by Hamas, and the possibility that it would resort to conflict? Did Israeli society provide the Israel Defense Forces with the backing that it needed in order to sufficiently prepare for war? Did the bug of political correctness drive the far-left crazy? Did the blood and suffering of the last few weeks make Israeli democracy closed-minded and intolerant?

When the time comes, all of these questions will require not-so-simple answers.

But now, as soldiers are being attacked from all directions, there are other, more basic questions that must be asked. Who are we fighting? What are we fighting for, and are we justified?

Who are we fighting? A fascist organization that terrorizes the people of Gaza, oppresses women and gays, and shuns all democratic values of freedom and progress.

Samuel LAURENT : “Les djihadistes prêts à frapper la France” et le desarroi des intelos

Samuel Laurent parle des réseaux djihadistes en France, et l’apport de mujahideen revenants de Syrie en Europe par les milliers…

Est-ce que cette fois ci, lors d’une operation du Tsahal à Gaza, que les européens commencent à se reveiller au sujet du lien entre leurs journalistes meurtiers et la djihade qui se deroulent à l’intérieur de leurs propres sociétés?


Liberation, journal de gauche, publia sur les manifs illégaux un article anonyme qui illustre bien la partie-prise des “professionels de l’information” aux côtes des djihadis, avec tous les distortions morales et empirique qui en suivent.  Illustration de la faillite de l’intelligentsia européenne au début du 21e siècle.

Lise Haddad, Présidente du Mouvement pour la paix contre le terrorisme ( MPCT)” envoya la lettre suivante en réponse. 

“Quand  au lendemain de  la commémoration de la rafle du Vel d’hiv, des synagogues sont brûlées  ainsi que des magasins juifs et des” voitures de Juifs” dans une banlieue parisienne, il me semble extrêmement grave qu’un journal aille encore semer la haine et faire flamber les tensions.  Voilà pourquoi je décide de répondre à cet article d’un courageux anonyme au pseudo d’Horace Benatier qui étale ses titres académiques mais  cache son identité pour s’extasier devant l’organisation de cette manifestation interdite, samedi 19 juillet.

Il parle de “désobéissance civile” à propos du maintien d’une manifestation  pro palestinienne interdite sans considérer que cette interdiction intervient après une  première manifestation sur le même thème  dans laquelle avaient été tolérés les cris de  “Mort aux Juifs” à Paris et de “nous sommes tous des Mohamed Merah” à Nice avec une première synagogue attaquée rue de la Roquette, des Juifs molestés.

Pendant la manifestation interdite de si haute tenue morale, des slogans antisémites n’ont pas seulement été criés en marge de la manifestation, mais bien au coeur de celle-ci, et  le fait de le nier  constitue une forme de négationnisme contemporain. Que les curieux aillent se renseigner sur les témoignages tweeter des riverains qui  effarés, ont  filmé ces images d’un autre temps.  Une de mes proches, habitant à 100 mètres de la manifestation, a entendu ces cris de haine et a craint pour sa propre intégrité.  Quelle douceur, quelle dignité!

Je retiens de la part d’un “haut fonctionnaire” et “maître de conférence”, cette formule: “La manifestation fut un succès [...] Par la dignité et la justesse verbale («Israël assassin, Hollande complice»)” dont ces manifestants ont fait preuve “. Quelle dignité et quelle retenue dans le fait de traiter en hurlant un pays “d’assassin” et le chef de l’Etat français de complice d’assassinat! Sur quels critères juridiques précis? Mystère. Monsieur l’enseignant masqué s’emballe dans un élan lyrique.

Quelle incitation à la  douceur et à la retenue! Il est vrai que Netanyahu aurait eu l’heur de plaire à cet Horace bien peu cornélien en laissant s’abattre des centaines de missiles sur tout son territoire, sur ses aéroports, hôpitaux, écoles, maisons,  faisant ainsi des milliers de morts israéliens mais  la stratégie cynique et visiblement efficace au plan  médiatique du bouclier humain prisée par le Hamas (organisation terroriste selon les critères internationaux) ne semble pas correspondre à la mentalité israélienne.

Les populations civiles palestiniennes sont prévenues  à l’avance par l’armée israélienne des bombardements en retour des tirs de roquettes et seul le Hamas les  incite à rester pour servir de martyres, c’est aussi le Hamas qui refuse d’accorder ou de respecter les trêves ou le cessez le feu. Si cet Horace crypté voyait des criminels  creuser un tunnel  jusqu’à son domicile pour effectuer des enlèvements ou pour  le tuer avec sa famille , sans doute  les accueillerait- il chez  lui et mourrait-il avec grâce, retenue, dignité. Sans doute croit-il que condamner les populations palestiniennes à vivre sous la tyrannie d’organisations terroristes et fanatiques est la marque de sa grande âme et qu’encourager les Mohamed Merah formés en  Syrie à venir massacrer des  enfants juifs dans leur école en France et des soldats musulmans ou  pas pendant leur permission constitue un acte de bravoure démocratique et de désobéissance civile.

Les jeunes casseurs de  banlieue sont nourris de haine contre les Sionistes, une haine semée par les islamistes et entretenue par les bonnes âmes sensibles qui défilent dans les rues aux côtés de gens éructant des “morts aux Juifs”, ils sont abreuvés  de haine contre les Juifs sous le fumeux  prétexte  qu’ils  soutiennent Israël, ils se déchainent  contre les commissariats de police qui essaient de faire respecter les valeurs démocratiques et qui représentent la force de protection de  l’Etat français “complice d’un Etat assassin” d’après monsieur Horace Benatier, ils les  attaquent donc à coup de pierres (intifada à la française), de barres de fer voire d’obus de  mortiers comme à Argenteuil.

Le mystère reste  qu’en pleine crise de la société civile, de bonnes âmes éduquées puissent penser ainsi et que Libération publie de tels articles.

Lise Haddad


Facebook Analysis of Arab-Israeli Conflict: It’s like, umm, if like… whatever.

Pamela Olson reported on facebook (at Gershom Baskin’s page) the following remark (which, judging by her page, she fully approves of):

“As a couple of people said on my comment thread lately: The entire presence of Israel is a bit like if I went to the house I grew up in (but haven’t lived in for 25 years) and said that it was my house now and the people currently living there (some distant relatives of mine) have to live in the closet. And I’ll beat the shit out of them if they try to come into the main part of the house or protest the whole situation in any meaningful way. What is worse is that it has been thousands of years and the current Palestinians are likely the offspring of the same people who were the original Jews who at some point converted to Christianity or Islam (or Communism or atheism or Buddhism or whatever).”

Let’s take it statement by statement, and construct an appropriate analogy:

“As a couple of people said on my comment thread lately: The entire presence of Israel is a bit like if I went to the house I grew up in (but haven’t lived in for 25 years) and said that it was my house now and the people currently living there (some distant relatives of mine) have to live in the closet.

H/T Walter Sobchak: Its more like we were expelled from the house by a gang of bikers, they were succeeded by a gang of drug dealers, and they in turn got pushed out by the mafia, who let a bunch of their low life cousins live there.

From the Romans to the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Ottomans, and the British — There were no legitimate peaceful transfers by bequest or purchase. Every transfer was by conquest. The Palestinian Arabs were subjects of the Ottomans and were treated by the Ottomans as lowly peasants (fellahin).

It is a maxim of the law that you cannot take good title from a thief. The Arab peasants could not take good title from any of the conquerors.

Jews lived in the closet or basement of that house, even though it was theirs, for all those long years, being pushed aside by imperialist aggressors, the last of whom was the distant relatives, who ran the place down into a deserted wreck.

When the Jews came to move back in, they rebuilt the place with plenty of room for everyone, including the distant relatives, whose families flocked to move in so they could share in the improved conditions. If in 1900 the place could only house under a million, the same area now houses 10 million.

And I’ll beat the shit out of them if they try to come into the main part of the house or protest the whole situation in any meaningful way.

And if they are willing to play by the rules that make this house liveable to so many, then they’re welcome, but if they come in with their old imperialist games of “we have to run the show or we’ll burn the place down,” then we will make it most unpleasant for them.

What is worse is that it has been thousands of years and the current Palestinians are likely the offspring of the same people who were the original Jews who at some point converted to Christianity or Islam (or Communism or atheism or Buddhism or whatever).”

What is worse is that it has been over a thousand years, and the current Palestinians are the offspring of the imperialist Muslims who came in and conquered the area in the early 7th century, and made life miserable for anyone who didn’t join their imperialist religion (or whatever). And they continue to pursue these unbelievably primitive and regressive attitudes to the detriment of everyone.

And what’s even worse is that people on the outside who think they’re being “fair,” but who don’t have a clue about the history, don’t hesitate to make up silly and hostile analogies that show as profound a lack of understanding, as Arabs political culture shows a lack of affinity for democracy.

I’m sorry, did I offend you? Like, whatever.

Tablet Article: Arab World’s Emotional Nakba

Why the Arab World Is Lost in an Emotional Nakba, and How We Keep It There

By ignoring the honor-shame dynamic in Arab political culture, is the West keeping itself from making headway toward peace?

By Richard Landes | June 24, 2014 12:00 AM|Comments: 43

A Palestinian protester aims sparks from a flare toward Israeli security forces during clashes near the Israeli checkpoint in Hebron on Feb. 25, 2013. (Hazem Bader/AFP/Getty Images)
Anthropologists and legal historians have long identified certain tribal cultures—warrior, nomadic—with a specific set of honor codes whose violation brings debilitating shame. The individual who fails to take revenge on the killer of a clansman brings shame upon himself (makes him a woman) and weakens his clan, inviting more open aggression. In World War II, the United States sought the help of anthropologists like Ruth Benedict to explain the play of honor and shame in driving Japanese military behavior, resulting in both intelligence victories in the Pacific Theater and her book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Taking her lead, the great classicist E.R. Dodds analyzed the millennium-long shift in Greek culture from a “shame” culture to a “guilt” culture in his Greeks and the Irrational, where he contrasted a world in which fame and reputation, rather than conscience and fear of divine retribution, drive men to act.
But even before literary critic Edward Saïd heaped scorn on “honor-shame” analysis inOrientalism (1978), anthropologists had backed off an approach that seemed to make inherently invidious comparisons between primitive cultures and a morally superior West. The reception of Saïd’s work strengthened this cultural relativism: Concerns for honor and shame drive everyone, and the simplistic antinomy “shame-guilt cultures” must be ultimately “racist.” It became, well, shameful in academic circles to mention honor/shame and especially in the context of comparisons between the Arab world and the West. Even in intelligence services, whose job is to think like the enemy, refusing to resort to honor/shame dynamics became standard procedure.
Any generous person should have a healthy discomfort with “othering,” drawing sharp lines between two peoples. We muddy the boundaries to be minimally polite: Honor-killings, for example, are thus seen as a form of domestic violence, which is also pervasive in the West. And indeed, honor/shame concerns are universal: Only saints and sociopaths don’t care what others think, and no group coheres without an honor code.
But even if these practices exist everywhere, we should still be able to acknowledge that in some cultures the dominant voices openly promote honor/shame values and in a way that militates against liberal society and progress. Arab political culture, to take one example—despite some liberal voices, despite noble dissidents—tends to favor ascendancy through aggression, the politics of the strong horse,” and the application of “Hama rules”—which all combine to produce a Middle East caught between prison and anarchy, between Sisi’s Egypt and al-Assad’s Syria. Our inability, however well-meaning, to discuss the role of honor-shame dynamics in the making of this political culture poses a dilemma: By keeping silent, we not only operate in denial, but we may actually strengthen these brutal values and weaken the very ones we treasure.
Few conflicts offer a better place to explore these matters than the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Table ronde à Jérusalem: Pourquoi le processus de paix échoue, voire nous éclate à la figure?

 Le mardi 24 juin, de 19h à 22h, à Yad Ben Zvi, 12 rue Abarbanel, Rechavia, Jérusalem.

Pourquoi le processus de paix échoue, voire nous éclate à la figure?

Répercussions des dynamiques d’honneur et de honte sur les relations israélo-arabes

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East présente une table ronde avec des experts internationaux au sujet des questions d’honneur et de honte dans la culture arabe, et du rôle de ces dynamiques dans l’échec perpétuel, voire explosif, des efforts pour arriver à la paix. A cause du “politiquement correct” qui considère de telles discussions forcément racistes, ces dynamiques élémentaires ne sont que rarement discutées. Les participants vont explorer comment, à partir d’une analyse de ces dynamiques, on pourrait améliorer les relations entre Israël et le monde arabe. 


Prof. Lucien Oulahbib, Université de Lyon

Jean-Pierre Lledo, cinéaste algéro-israélien

Dr.Harold Rhode, Gatestone Institute, ancien du State Department

Bassem Eid, Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group

Dr. Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin, psychoanalyste, Fellow, American Center for Democracy

Prof. Mordechai Kedar, Université Bar Ilan


Médiateur: Prof. Richard Landes, Boston University

Le mardi 24 juin, de 19h à 22h,

à Yad Ben Zvi, 12 rue Abarbanel, Rechavia, Jérusalem.

Une traduction simultanée anglais/français sera mise en place.

Le public pourra poser ses questions aux participants.

Pendant la pause, des rafraîchissements seront offerts.

Inscriptions et informations supplémentaires :
Dr. Jan Sokolovsky, ou 0547-466-383.

Tous les bienvenus.

Why “Peace Plans” Backfire: How Honor-Shame Dynamics Affect Arab-Israeli Relations

Why “Peace Plans” Backfire

How Honor-Shame Dynamics Affect Arab-Israeli Relations

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East presents a panel discussion by international experts on the cultural issues of (gaining) honor and (avoiding) shame in the Arab society, and the role those cultural dynamics play in the current failure, even backfiring, of the “peace-process.” Since the politically correct consider such cultural discussions “racist,”, these critical dynamics rarely get discussed. Panelists will explore some of the ways that, by taking them into account, we can think effectively and creatively about how to improve relations between Israel and her neighbors.

 Tuesday evening, June 24, 7-10 PM,

Yad Ben Zvi, Abarbanel 12, Rechavia, Jerusalem.


Prof. Lucien Oulahbib, University of Lyon (French)

Dr.Harold Rhode, Gatestone Institute, formerly US State Department

Bassem Eid, Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group

Dr. Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin, psychoanalyst, Fellow American Center for Democracy

Jean-Pierre Lledo, Algerian-Israeli film maker (French)

Prof. Mordechai Kedar, Bar Ilan University

Chair: Prof. Richard Landes, Boston University

There will be simultaneous translation between English and French, opportunity for questions from the audience, light refreshments.

For registration and information, contact Dr. Jan Sokolovsky or 0547-466-383


The Soft Underbelly of the West: A Brief Introduction to Jihadi Cognitive Warfare in the 21st Century

I recently attended a meeting where I was asked to speak briefly about cognitive warfare. Here are the remarks I prepared.

Cognitive War’s goal is to convince a more powerful enemy not to use its superior force, but rather to surrender without a fight. Most often this is a defensive war: like the Maccabees, get the enemy to leave. Advanced modern democracies, however, both immensely powerful on the battlefield and immensely vulnerable in their public sphere, have created conditions favorable to a new phenomenon: invasions by weaker military powers who seek to convince the enemy to surrender on its own turf.

None of these invasive insurgencies has had a greater and more unanticipated success than global Jihad, whose goal is to submit the entire world to Dar al Islam. The audacity of this idea, that Islam could conquer the West, that the Queen of England would wear a burkah and the green flag of Islam would fly from the White House, that Jihadis could bully and manipulate the West into surrendering to their demands for Muslim dominion, struck most Westerners as ludicrous, a bad joke at best.

And certainly, if one looked at the situation in later 20th century, such a dream seemed impossible to all but the most committed millenarian fanatic. Indeed, if we imagine the mindset of someone with such outrageous hope – that the entire world will either convert or bend the knee to Islam – he might have prayed as follows at the approach of 2000 (a Muslim apocalyptic date):

Oh Allah, the all-merciful, give us enemies who…

  • …help us to disguise our ambitions and acts of war, blinding themselves to our deployment targeting them.
  • …accept those of us who fight with da’wah (cogwar) as “moderates” who have nothing to do with the violent “extremists.”
  • …chose these false “moderates” as advisors and consultants in intelligence and police services, and as community liaison.
  • …attack anyone, including Muslims and ex-Muslims, who criticize Islam.
  • …believe that Islam is a “Religion of Peace,”
  • …teach themselves a version of Islam where they don’t even know about Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb.
  • … treat anyone who warns about our intentions for world conquest as a paranoid, conspiracy-minded, war-mongerer.
  • …adopt our apocalyptic enemy (Dajjal), so that they turn against their most important ally.
  • …legitimate our terrorism as “resistance” and denounce any recourse to violence in their own defense, as “terrorism.”
  • …respect the dignity of our beliefs even as we heap disdain on theirs.
  • …introduce our intimidating “Street” in the heart of their capital cities..

And may those who so act, play prominent roles in their public sphere. Only then can we, your loyal servants and agents, accomplish your will, that the entire world become Dar al Islam.

Alas, those prayers have been answered singly and collectively, again and again, since 2000, so consistently, that were I Muslim, I’d be convinced Allah indeed wanted us to conquer the world. So we infidels now find ourselves – and by “we” I mean the modern democratic West – on the defensive, even though our advantages, both military and cognitive, still far outstrip those of our foes. Secular democratic Europe only commits suicide over the next thirty years if it continues to speak and act as it does now, not because it lacks the cultural resources with which to resist. On the contrary, like our military advantage, the West’s cultural repertoire is immensely greater, more flexible and resilient than that of Muslim theocracy.

In significant part Jihad’s astonishing success comes from finding the West’s soft underbelly – anti-Zionism. Starting with the Al Durah hoax in October 2000, Jihadis have gotten the most outspoken of the Western “progressive” left to adopt their Antichrist – the state of Israel.

The destruction of Israel has immense significance, both military and symbolic, for Jihadis. And getting the West to abandon Israel, whether as part of a moral crusade (BDS), or “for the cause of peace” (Oslo Logic), would represent an immense victory for Jihad, possibly a decisive one that would shift the battle from its cognitive theater to open warfare in many places. It would deal a devastating blow to the West’s ability to resist the increased aggression this Western folly would inspire in Jihadis. From this perspective, the demonization of Israel is not merely a dagger pointed at the Zionist heart, but at the hearts of all Western democracies.

If you had told the drafters of the Hamas charter in 1988 that within two decades, infidels would be shouting “We are Hamas” in the streets of Western capitals, they would have responded “only Allah could make someone that stupid.” Perhaps the single greatest vulnerability of the West is its mainstream news media, which has, especially since 2000, been dominated by lethal journalism, which, pumps Jihadi war propaganda against Israel into the Western public sphere as news (from al Durah and Jenin to Goldstone and Mavi Marmara).

This lethal journalism, provides the jet fuel for comparisons of Israel with the Nazis (the adoption of the Jihadi Dajjal), for massive “anti-war” demonstrations against Israel that empower an aggressive “Muslim Street” in the West, for “Apartheid Weeks” that justify BDS.

And BDS is the prime Jihadi cogwar strategy to get the West to do the job of eliminating Israel (which the Muslims can’t), by getting them to believe the incredible, facetious claim that this is a moral act that will ameliorate the situation. Of all the serious vulnerabilities of the Western public sphere to Jihadi cogwar assault – and there are many – none is more urgently serious than lethal journalism, which effects everyone on a daily basis.

We really don’t have to be this stupid.

Four Dimensional Jews, Two Dimensional Muslims: Fisking Rabbi Daniel Landes

I do the following fisking with some reluctance. Daniel Landes is a cousin and friend, whom I love and deeply admire. But this piece illustrates too many of the fundamental errors of a “liberal” Judaism attempting to solve problems that are clearly beyond its ken. So, alas, the following.

End the conflict – a Jewish imperative

We must not allow the messianisms of the religious right to cloud the call from our greatest religious authorities to return the territories, for the sake of saving life.

By Rabbi Daniel Landes | 17:52 07.04.14 |  1

For the religious Zionist Jew who wishes to grasp Israel’s present situation in a rational way, the hardest act is to shake off the messianisms that envelop his society – ranging from overt and imminent “end-time” scenarios, to the hazy metaphor of the “beginning of the dawn of our salvation.”

Of course, it also behooves anyone trying to grasp Israel’s present situation in a rational [sic] way, to become aware of the messianisms that envelop Israel’s enemies. Anyone who has not read at least one of the following, has no business discussing the conflict between Israel and its “neighbors” in terms of messianic tendencies.

Timothy Furnish, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden (New York: Praeger, 2005)

Laurent Murawiec, The Mind of Jihad (New York: Oxford, 2006);

David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2008);

Landes, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (NY: Oxford University Press), chap. 14;

Jean Pierre Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011).

This of course doesn’t even begin to get at the literature on groups like Hamas, who are “near” enemies, and whose apocalyptic delirium places them at the heart of the most dangerous form of apocalyptic belief: active cataclysmic (i.e., we are the agents of the catastrophic destruction that must cleanse the world of evil). That form of apocalyptic belief has, in the past, caused mega-deaths on the scale of tens of millions (Heaven on Earth, chaps 7 (Taiping, ca. 35 million), chap. 11 (Bolshevik, ca. 50 million), chap. 12 (Nazism, ca. 40 million), not to mention Maoism (ca. 70 million).

I think that any comparison of Jewish and Islamic messianism (I prefer the term millennialism), makes it clear that Jews have a far more extensive fire-wall against apocalyptic outbreaks, especially violent ones, than do the current generation of Muslims. It’s almost grotesque to blame our current impasse on Jewish messianists. Like so many people motivated by a belief that the solution to this conflict is somehow “in our hands,” Rabbi Landes is willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for peace (or even just to save lives). The tragedy here is that the only thing standing between the awful situation of “occupation” and the vastly more horrible situation of Jihadi civil war (à la Syria), is Israel’s continued control of the the West Bank. Painful sacrifices for peace is one thing, painful sacrifices that empower the worst kind of war, is quite another.

What they share and engender is an optimistic feeling of ultimate victory and security. We are assured that the Jews’ political failure and physical catastrophe is as finished as the Galut (Exile). But in the actual psyche of the religious Zionist, the persistently suppressed horror of that past repeating itself propels us further – into a delusional messianism that needs to be coupled to a secular rightwing ideology promising salvation by standing ‘strong’ and ‘proud’, that is confirmed by our increasing isolation.

Of course, we have left-wing variants of this misplaced messianic hope and confidence, expressed, for example, in J-Street and everything to its left (Olive Tree Initiative, Jewish Voice for Peace, etc.), who think that the genocidal threat against Jews is over, and all we have to do to appease the Arab/Muslim hatred of Jews is to give back the “territories” and then we’ll have Peace. This vision of a post-modern world in which we’ve all left behind the madness and superstition of the pre-modern world propels us further – into a delusional messianism that needs to be coupled with a secular left-wing ideology promising salvation by being ‘generous’ and ‘peace-loving’ and ‘accommodating’. You know, “tikkun olam” in support of BDS.

Arab Self-Criticism and Acknowledging the Real Enemy of the Arab People

I have complained repeatedly at my blog about the lack of self-criticism in the Arab world, the pathetic way that honor demands that all Arabs line up against Israel, even though Arab elites are the real enemy of the Arab people. So it’s with great pleasure that I post the following piece by Abdulateef al-Mulhim published in Arab News. On the other hand, since this is over a year old and has not had much of a visible impact on the discussion in the Arab world, maybe my complaints remain current. Indeed, in his latest piece, Al-Mulhim taunts the still-string irrational Arab hostility to Israel. Alas.

Arab Spring and the Israeli enemy


Published — Saturday 6 October 2012

Thirty-nine years ago, on Oct. 6, 1973, the third major war between the Arabs and Israel broke out. The war lasted only 20 days. The two sides were engaged in two other major wars, in 1948 and 1967.
The 1967 War lasted only six days. But, these three wars were not the only Arab-Israel confrontations. From the period of 1948 and to this day many confrontations have taken place. Some of them were small clashes and many of them were full-scale battles, but there were no major wars apart from the ones mentioned above. The Arab-Israeli conflict is the most complicated conflict the world ever experienced. On the anniversary of the 1973 War between the Arab and the Israelis, many people in the Arab world are beginning to ask many questions about the past, present and the future with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The questions now are: What was the real cost of these wars to the Arab world and its people. And the harder question that no Arab national wants to ask is: What was the real cost for not recognizing Israel in 1948 and why didn’t the Arab states spend their assets on education, health care and the infrastructures instead of wars? But, the hardest question that no Arab national wants to hear is whether Israel is the real enemy of the Arab world and the Arab people.

Cogwar Reflections on the Danish Muhammad Cartoon Affair

In preparing to post the speech I gave to a Conference on Homeland Security about Cogwar this month, I found myself elaborating on several points beyond what the talk itself could bear. So I’ve moved some of the discussion to separate posts. The first concerns the Danish Cartoon Affair, which I used to illustrate the way that our news media and the intelligentsia in our public sphere failed to report on a crucial detail of the efforts of radical Imams to make the Danish Cartoons into an occasion to “spread Sharia” to Dar al Islam. As a result, a “teaching moment” for civil society and tolerance became a “bullying moment” for an aggressive, triumphalist religion of conquest.

From the global Jihadi perspective, this incident represented an effort to extend Sharia over areas of targeted Dar al Harb. Indeed since Khoumeini’s fatwa against Salmon Rushdie, global Jihadis have sought to get Westerners to adopt Sharia’s (heavily censuring) position on articulating anything they might consider blasphemous. In the most zealous of Muslim formulations, the depiction of Muhammad was forbidden to Muslims (for fear of idolatry). But here Islamist activists insisted that not even non-Dhimmi infidels (i.e., independent non-Muslims) have no right to violate (their strict reading of) Sharia. The stakes were high, both in terms of freedom of speech and in terms of the demopathic demand that infidels show respect for Islam, even as cartoons all over the Muslim world depicted the infidel (especially the Jew) in the most grotesque, hate-mongering fashion.

And yet, in the entire Muhammad Cartoon episode, only the blogosphere discussed at any length the three fake Muhammad Cartoons, by far the outrageous of the lot, the most blasphemous, created specifically by the radical preachers who wanted to inflame the Muslim Street: Muhammad as pig, as paedophile, as being raped by a dog while praying. These were “lethal narratives,” false tales told to make the Western infidel as odious to Muslims as possible, even as they used them to gain sympathy from Western liberals by illustrating the atmosphere of Islamophobia in which Western Muslims must live.

Victor Perez dévoile la malhonnêteté d’Enderlin et son anti-israelism

Charles Enderlin posted at his blog an essay on “Netanyahu’s Vision,” which reveals all the sloppy prejudices that he has internalized from an international consensus that it’s all Israel’s fault. Victor Perez at his blog, manages to draw out many of the elements the explain why Charles’ readership is so fully misinformed.

La vision idéologique de Charles Enderlin

Certains s’interrogent sur les raisons de la poussée de l’antisémitisme en Europe et principalement en France. Une hostilité systématique envers les Juifs cachée sous le paravent d’un anti-sionisme développé dans les médias nationaux par la bouche et/ou les écrits des journalistes à demeure, ou envoyés, en Israël.

L’envoyé permanent de France 2 à Jérusalem, pourtant juif, israélien et, paraît-il, ayant fait son service militaire ne déroge pas à la règle de ses employeurs. Charles Enderlin en bon petit soldat de la guerre larvée qui se joue contre l’Etat du peuple juif a une idéologie à soutenir.

La logique et le bon sens ont, vraisemblablement, déserté sa réflexion !

Dans un texte intitulé « La vision de Netanyahu », publié dans son blog, il confirme que tout le mal vient des Israéliens ! Il nous affirme qu’il « sera quasi impossible d’évacuer cent mille colons installés au cœur de la Cisjordanie, les 260000 autres étant regroupés dans des blocs d’implantations. En admettant que cela se fasse, resterait le problème de Jérusalem Est (…) »

If the World Really Wanted Peace in the Middle East…

Ted Belman reposted this article from Saul Singer from 2007. Imnsho it’s right on. Readers who bristle at these suggestions should ask themselves why they bristle, and what assumptions underly their reaction about who should make concessions. And finally, whether their acceptance of assumptions that the Israelis should be making the concessions stems from serious independent thought, or an unexamined acceptance of a Palestinian victim narrative that imposes itself not by empiric accuracy but… what?

Saul Singer advises How to pressure for peace.

I go further and suggest that the peace process has it bass-ackwards.

Rather than arm and train the terrorists (Fatah) it should force their disarmament.

Rather than finance them to the tune of $7.4 billion thereby enabling them to continue the “resistance”, they should be left to fend for themselves.

Rather than force Israel to freeze settlement activity thereby removing time as an issue it should allow Israel to build to its heart’s content thereby forcing the Palestinians to compromise quickly rather than to allow an erosion of their position in a final settlement.

Rather than force Israel to make goodwill gestures which merely encourages intransigence, it should force the Palestinians to make goodwill gestures. Whatever resistance Israelis have to the “peace process”, it will be reduced with such real gestures.

This is so obvious that one must conclude that the peace process is designed to continue the conflict rather than end it.

I should point out that no one is demanding peace at the end of the process. You will recall that one of the things Arafat balked at at Camp David, was signing an “end of conflict agreement”. Today no one is even mentioning such a thing and the Arab League is only offering “normalization” whatever that means..

Israel knows this. That is why it is demanding, so far, recognition as a Jewish state. If there was going to be a real peace agreement and a real peace, there would be no need to demand this recognition. Israel, as a sovereign state, could be what it wanted to be. Unfortunately, such recognition if it is given, will be a poor substitute for real peace.

The Arabs are refusing such recognition because their ultimate goal is to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. This they cannot accept. They also would not accept Israel with a Jewish majority even if it were a state like any other. They want Palestine to include Israel and the Jews there to become dhimmis. The peace process is just one step along the way.

The peace process, from Israel’s point of view, is simply a negotiated withdrawal from the Westbank as opposed to the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.

Here’s a good place to meditate if your reaction is “Exactly! And so it should be.”

To my mind, whether Israel just withdraws or negotiates terms of withdrawal or signs a peace agreement, as with Egypt, it makes little difference as the Arabs don’t and won’t abide by the agreements.

Review of Heaven on Earth by Andrew Gow

RICHARD LANDES. Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience.
Richard Landes. Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience. New York: Oxford University Press. 2011. Pp. xix, 499. $35.00.
Andrew Gow
University of Alberta

This is an immense and wide-ranging book (a “craggy edifice,” as Garry Trompf rightly notes in his blurb for the back cover); all attempts to review it must fail in view of its breadth, diversity, and ambition. Richard Landes’s first “law of apocalyptic dynamics” is “Wrong does not mean inconsequential”; the second is “One person’s messiah is another’s antichrist.” The first “law” is in fact not a universal law, but a powerful historiographic program of revision: just because chroniclers and historians since antiquity have correctly noted that apocalyptic hopes and/or fears have always been dashed does not mean that such hopes were unimportant, transitory, superficial or merely crazed, as most historians have assumed and continue to claim.

Landes’s career as a scholar of millennialism began with a reassessment of the Truce of God and Peace of God movements of the late tenth and early eleventh centuries in Carolingian and Capetian France, around the year 1000 (during which feudal warlords were tamed and France was “blanketed by a white mantle of churches”). He has persistently argued that these episodes were mass movements of millennial enthusiasm, the core of which was elided and denied by clerical observers after the fact (or, in Landes’s catchy phrase, after their collapse: ex post defectu), and then radically downplayed in all subsequent historiography. Such activity Landes considers to be the work of “owls” commenting disapprovingly on the disproven nonsense so recently crowed by apocalyptic “roosters” and enjoining all to settle down and sleep some more, as it is still night, not yet the heralded new dawn.

Landes employs a bestiary of types based on a Talmudic story about a rooster and a bat waiting for the dawn, with the rooster wondering what is in it for the bat. The attempt to set up “ideal [animal] types” representing both apocalyptic prophets and (anti-apocalyptic, Augustinian) scholars is reminiscent of Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables; it is also a novel move that places both prophetic doomsayers and scholarly naysayers in the same notional category, based on what seems like a tacit premise that scholarly claims to objectivity (or at least to stand outside the fray) are hollow. They often are, but this leveling move pre-selects both data and possible approaches to it.

Landes’s core complaint about historians is that we have been unreasonably unwilling to contemplate the often indirect evidence of millennial and apocalyptic movements in the past because they left so few traces—as owls effaced the evidence and laughed roosters to scorn. One of Landes’s most prominent critics, the distinguished French medievalist Dominique Barthélémy, has repeatedly insisted that there is no (written) evidence for a mass millennial/millenarian movement around the year 1000, nor for a great “mutation” or change in Western society as a result. He is in prestigious company, with Jacques Le Goff and Jean Delumeau.

Article by David and Richard Landes for TNR Symposium on Zionism at 100

Looking through some of the pieces my father and I wrote, I came across this one. It’s attributed at the TNR site to Walter Lacquer, and I don’t have a copy of the original, but I’m pretty sure it was ours.

The Zionist Anomaly

Zionism poses the same anomaly to post-modern culture that Judaism posed to pre-modern and modern: a historical case that goes against type, that in some sense defies the “laws” that define human culture and behavior. The Jews themselves represent, of course, one of the great historical anomalies: the only cultural personality of late antiquity to survive, not only in a series of written works cherished also by other cultures, but as a people with a history and an intellectual community driving across millennia. The survival is the more notable because it was achieved without that sine qua non of survival: power, sovereignty, the might and right to protect itself and dominate others.

Of course, historians who do not love anomalies try to sweep this one aside as almost unworthy of attention. As Gavin Langmuir pointed out over three decades ago, no textbook deals seriously with the place of the Jews in medieval life. And this neglect is only the milder version of a much older, more widespread phenomenon, found high and low in Christian and Muslim cultures: the attempt to eliminate Jews as a voice in society. In the Latin West, this found expression in forced conversion and mass killing. Normally one does not put so much energy into silencing the insignificant.

On top of this anomaly comes Israel, the only national liberation movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to succeed in modernizing the society it created. (This is what such movements were presumably made for.) Most of the countries of the undeveloped world have failed here, even those with exceptional material endowments such as Uganda, Brazil and the oil producers of the Middle East. But here is Israel, poor in natural resources, beset by enemies, able in one generation to go from a Third World agricultural economy to one of the most effective producers pound for pound in the world. The story is familiar, so much so that many have grown tired of it. Yet this familiarity should not inure us to the accomplishment.

Article on 9-11 by David and Richard Landes in the New Republic

Going over some of the articles my father and I jointly published, I ran across this one from October 8, 2001.

Girl Power


Among the popular explanations for September 11′s cunning, devastating attacks on the United States is American support for Israel. The argument runs like this: If the United States had not aided and abetted the Muslim world’s primary enemy, we would not have become Islam’s enemy ourselves, and therefore would not have been a target for reprisals. That argument, however, is a dodge. Even if there were no Israel, the Muslim world would still likely feel deep and deepening hostility toward the West.

That hostility predates the formation of the Jewish State, and has its roots in the West’s growing cultural, political, economic, and military dominance over the lands of Islam, a dominance that has been building for centuries but was by no means inevitable, and which many Muslims find baffling and infuriating. Hundreds of years ago, Islamic civilization stood at the pinnacle of global achievement, politically and intellectually. Muslim empires ruled over the Middle East, stretched west to Spain and Portugal and east to India and the borderlands of China. Islam was deservedly reputed for its ecumenism, its ability to learn from and assimilate other societies. And then something went wrong.